Farm Bill May Stir Up Local Hornets’ Nest on Pesticides

September 19, 2018
A screengrab of an interactive map developed by environmental health group Beyond Pesticides showing U.S. jurisdictions with local pesticide ordinances. IMAGE: Beyond Pesticides. Click to enlarge.

TipSheet: Farm Bill May Stir Up Local Hornets’ Nest on Pesticides

The thorny issue of local bans on pesticides, which the TipSheet wrote about in a previous edition, may soon be settled by the pending U.S. Farm Bill. That could mean stories where you are.

But exactly how Congress will land on the question is anyone’s guess. The House version of the bill prohibits local and state laws that ban specific pesticides not already banned by federal law. The Senate bill doesn’t.

The provision in the House bill (Section 9101 of H.R. 2) essentially decrees that only state regulators, not local governments, can regulate pesticides. It amends FIFRA, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, which set up a federalist system where states enforce U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards.

Members of both chambers met earlier in September in conference to resolve differences.  As of this writing, they had not agreed on a compromise — but they face a deadline of Sept. 30, when the previous farm bill expires. Of course, they could always punt with a temporary extension.

Growing trend for local ordinances

States vary widely in how they enforce pesticide rules. In the case of the herbicide dicamba, for instance, where drift has harmed some crops, they may go beyond EPA. And some 58 jurisdictions have restricted use of the herbicide glyphosate more aggressively than the federal government does.  

In many agricultural states, however, state regulators tend to side with farmers, who generally resist restrictions.

Observers see a growing trend of local pesticide ordinances — some simply prohibiting spraying something on residential lawns. In a few cases, state regs, such as in Maine, coexist with local ordinances.

But now a number of these local ordinances have been undone in the courts (may require subscription), while House Republicans seek to put the kibosh on the whole local ordinance trend.

At the same time, many individuals and groups have lobbied hard against the House ban on local pesticide ordinances.

A group of 107 House members sent Agriculture Committee leaders a letter August 27 voicing objections. The National League of Cities and the National Association of Regional Councils sent a letter of objection August 3. Sixty local officials sent a letter of opposition September 13. The environmental health advocacy group Beyond Pesticides has organized a letter-writing campaign.

We don’t know what will happen with the Farm Bill — but when it does, you will hear about it on the websites of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees, as well as the farm press.

Meanwhile, to help cover the story, environmental journalists should know about this interactive map, published by Beyond Pesticides, showing pretty much all the jurisdictions that have local pesticide ordinances. It will tell you if you have a local ordinance at risk. Note that if your local ordinance is still being argued over, it may not show up.

* From the weekly news magazine SEJournal Online, Vol. 3, No. 33. Content from each new issue of SEJournal Online is available to the public via the SEJournal Online main page. Subscribe to the e-newsletter here. And see past issues of the SEJournal archived here.

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